A: Drama
Dir: Nagesh Kukunoor
Cast: Nagesh Kukunoor, Satish Kaushik and Ram Kapoor

While making Lakshmi, a story inspired by a true-life incident, Nagesh Kukunoor was obviously walking a tight rope. Here’s a sordid story of a 14-year-old brave Lakshmi, who is caught in a child prostitution racket.

Monali Thakur is not at all convincing as a 14-year-old fresh-faced girl
Monali Thakur is not at all convincing as a 14-year-old fresh-faced girl

She has the gumption to get out of it and file a case against her perpetrators in spite of the looming danger of being eliminated. You walk into the movie theatre somewhat sure that this will be handled sensitively by someone who has made tender, touching movies like Dor and Iqbal. Alas, that is not to be.

Lakshmi (played by singer-turned-actress Monali Thakur), is a 14-year-old girl leading a normal life with her sisters and father in a village. Suddenly, she finds herself in a brothel, run by a local goon (Satish Kaushik) and his brother Chinna (Nagesh Kukunoor). The brothel keeper (Shefali Shah) starts developing a soft corner for Lakshmi, who refuses to surrender to the situation and is planning to escape. Escape she does and then she goes on to file a court case against the culprits with the help of a benevolent lawyer (Ram Kapoor).

Now one understands that this is not a comfortable story and that certain harsh facts have to be brought out to convey the brutality that an innocent teenager is made to face because of the situation that she is thrown in. The hard-hitting reality of life in a brothel obviously doesn’t make for candyfloss stuff. Then again there is a thin line between depicting the reality of a situation and harping on it as if getting some kind of pleasure out of it. Kukunoor’s story narration is single-minded and unflinching, but instead of getting into the sensitive details of the girl’s psyche and how it changes during her six-month ordeal in the brothel, he prefers to drive home the point about physical abuse again and again. In doing so, he is perhaps unwittingly providing some kind of titillation to the perverts present in the audience, thus diluting the whole purpose of the film.

Shefali Shah is brilliant as the kind but practical brothel keeper. This actress should get more opportunities to showcase her talent. In a serious case of miscasting, Monali Thakur is not at all convincing as a 14-year-old fresh-faced innocent child woman. Ram Kapoor is competent as usual.

And yes, among other things, we could have done without having to watch Satish Kaushik bare himself on the big screen.